August 7, 2009

Hiking to Ellis Peak

Last weekend, we camped in the Tahoe area. On Monday we hiked a gorgeous trail to a mountaintop called Ellis Peak in the Tahoe National Forest. The hike was about six miles total, over an easy and well maintained trail with a pretty steep climb over the beginning quarter mile. Some of the most spectacular views of both Desolation Wilderness and Lake Tahoe can be seen along this trail. As you'll see in the photos below, we were graced with unparalleled, perfect weather.

The hike started poorly when Sam t
ried to climb and then jump off the gate where we parked (which Ethan is sitting on here). It looked like he took a header right to the pavement, but fortunately his leg got stuck enough that he never hit his head; he only got a charlie horse in his thigh. But he was OK, and we charged onward.

The first quarter mile consists of dusty switchbacks up the side of the mountain, a few hundred feet vertical. At the top is the first of a long line of spectacular views, and a series of alpine meadows with various types of plants. At the top, the trees look weather beaten and sparse, clearly battered by years of wind. This is a ridge that rises well above Desolation Wilderness and then falls off into the Tahoe basin, so it's essentially the top of the wall.

Peter standing in front of Desolation Wilderness

Maria in one of the alpine meadows, sort of.

Peter and Sam on top of the rocky ridge

The trail meanders across the top of the ridge for a quarter mile before dropping onto the back side of the mountain, into a long and quite pleasant stroll through redwoods and white pines. We met a few other day hikers along the way, but largely the trail was quiet. A mile or so farther on, the trail splits--one path to Ellis Lake, and the other to Ellis Peak. We chose the peak as our destination.

Peter, Ethan, and Sam overlooking the valley leading up to the trailhead

A view of the valley; the road to the trailhead winds through it, and Lake Tahoe is at the other end of the road.

Ethan waiting for his old man to catch up, sitting among redwoods and white pines.

The last half mile is again very vertical, rising back to the highest point on the ridge, a pinnacle that towers over Lake Tahoe on its western side. On the western side of the ridge, the wind whipped across and cooled us nicely; on the leeward side, the sun beat down and shade was difficult to find. We ate our lunch on the leeward side at 8,700 feet, admired the view, then began the trek back along the trail.

Maria in front of the valley.

Maria from Ellis Peak with Lake Tahoe in the background. You can see nearly the entire south end of the lake, including Heavenly, from this point.

On the way back, the views were equally spectacular. Some were even more dramatic because of the angle looking at the sheer rock faces along the ridge. The whole affair took us about four hours. The five of us (us four plus my brother) went through five gatorades and about three liters of water, and we could have used a little more.

Peter trying not to fall off the peak or look to knackered in the elevation.

All the boys, from front to back: Sam, Ethan, Mark, Peter

When we got back to our Meeks Bay campground, we jumped in Lake Tahoe (brrr) and played some touch football on the beach.

This weekend: More camping, but at lower altitude. We will be going to our usual Lake Sonoma campsite with dear friends. For me: three weekends of camping in a row! See you on the other side.


fairyhedgehog said...

Utterly gorgeous pictures!

Unknown said...

Looks like a great hike.

Robin B. said...

Wonderful and as FH said, gorgeous pictures!

jjdebenedictis said...

Ooh, so pretty!

Sarah Laurenson said...

Fabulous! Hope you continue to have such a good time!

Bluest Peach said...

The view from the top and on the way to it are all breathtakingly beautiful. I can just imagine how the whole place would magically transform come sunset.

Leslie said...

Pete, I just now stumbled onto this post when I scrolled down and caught the picture of you standing there with Desolation Wilderness as your backdrop. Looks like you guys had a gorgeous weekend! It's funny -- Desolation Wilderness, Ellis Peak, and Meeks Bay campground & beach all have prominent roles in my novel :-)

Do you mind if I grab a couple of your photos to use as inspiration?